Just Watched #4 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Disclaimer: Man, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life in recent times. Nothing life-alteringly horrible happened, but plenty (like too many) small things went horribly wrong. There was the having-a-long-heated-debate-with-a-friend-about-why-I-don’t-date part. There was the discovering-the-spot-of-grease-that-was-smeared-all-over-the-foot-of-the-stairs-in-my apartment-building part, during which I took a comically bad fall and landed on my hand and hip. There was also (after the grease) the “Oh-cool-it’s-a-thunderstorm-now-that-I’ve-hauled-my-clothes-out-to-the-laundromat” part; I had an umbrella, thankfully, but it wasn’t big enough for me and my clothes. 

So, all of that is to say I got home, had gelato, watched Luther, and refused to write this post until today. Sorry it’s a little late, but enjoy.

So, last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Wonder Woman is out and I still really want to see that, but my order of interest in comic movies will always start with Marvel, then go to DC. Because, after Batman V Superman, and how many people swore that movie was good, I’m just inclined to believe all DC movies are worse than everyone makes them out to be. I still want to support Wonder Woman, sure, but if Marvel suddenly released a Squirrel Girl movie on the same morning the new Batman came out, you better believe I’m watching Squirrel Girl instead.

That said though . . . man was Guardians 2 disappointing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it overall, but it feels like the end of the road for the “fun Marvel movie” formula.

That formula being “Jokes! Jokes everywhere!”

Granted, there were parts of the formula that didn’t crop up, like “the completely non-threatening, zero stakes villain” that plagues a ton of Marvel movies, but Guardians 2 still absolutely failed to balance its action and humor. That’s often a problem with comic movies . . .

. . . but Guardians 2 fails to make that balance in the worst way: by sacrificing good action . . . for a ton of unfunny jokes.

And that lack of balance is what I took from the movie, writing-wise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with the Guardians fighting an inter-dimensional monster for exposition. You think to yourself, “Oh, sweet. This is going to be some awesome exposition!”

Nope. That action scene is immediately undermined . . . by baby Groot dancing.

It’s supposed to be cheeky irreverence for the action scene, making the high stakes into a joke.

But, no, it doesn’t work. Because that kind of joke only works when it’s used to undermine something the audience doesn’t want to see. Namely, any scene that an audience can fill in the blanks for — something they don’t need to see to understand.

But the Guardians were fighting a tentacle monster that was vomiting rainbows everywhere. Why the fuck would I not want to see every second of that? More to the point, why would I not want to see that instead of more dancing Groot?

That intro sets up a really bad joke climate for the entire movie, making more of its humor start out at a deficit, which means that the best parts of the movie are its genuine action and drama.

I wound up loving Nebula, which I didn’t expect; I also wound up wishing that one of her best lines wasn’t undermined by yet another joke without legs.

One of the better parts of the film was Yandu’s escape, an action scene that almost went uninterrupted by a recurring bad joke.

I liked the villain and felt like the climax of the movie was high stakes . . . although it also tried to break its own intensity with another joke that reminded me of Pixels (so, ya know, the worst kind of joke there is).

What I’m saying here is . . . Guardians 2 made me realize that the delicate balance between action and humor works both ways.

When a story should have levity but doesn’t, that’s bad.

When a story should have levity, but it has way, way too much of it, that’s also bad.

And that matters to me especially because there was a point when Memory had way too much levity.

When I originally sent it out to friends, some thought it was great and didn’t need any huge changes.

Others were honest about how annoying they felt the protagonist was.

My Friend: “He does a lot of thinking about doing something bad, then doing it anyway. And that’s annoying.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

My Friend: “It’s like reading a Silver Age comic, where they talk about — ”

Me: “Omfg, dude, okay. I get it. I swear I’m horrified and I get it.”

They went on to explain that some of his moments were cringy, and, on my next read, I absolutely saw what they were talking about — a lot of placeholder jokes that I just dropped in and forgot because I was trying to hit my NaNoWriMo count for the day.

Now, Kole Buchanan is the same character, but with his bad jokes fixed or excised altogether. He’s also more capable, less whiny.

What I’m saying is, fixing the balance between humor and action in my own novel was an important first step on a road I’m finally nearing the end of.

So, watching Guardians 2, seeing Drax laugh really hard at something for the umpteenth time, I had a quiet sigh of relief.

Thank God for honest friends.

~~~

Hope you enjoyed that one. As a man who has only recently found his way through the Marvel-nurtured struggle of levity VS drama, it’s good to be on the other side. Assuming that I am on the other side and the jokes in Memory are actually funny and well-timed . . . Yeah, I’m-a get back to editing now.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I’m actually going to go grab a breakfast burger and Advil for my hip. Then I’m going to eat, bing-watch some more Luther, and then edit. That’s my sick day plan, and I hope your plans for today, whatever they are, are awesome.

Thanks again just for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

Just Watched #3 – Twin Peaks

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

There’s a very specific way that I say, “What the fuck, dude?”

In the TV show of my life, that would absolutely be my catchphrase.

And, as in real life, I’d sigh it when I’m watching, reading, or playing something that thoroughly fucks my mind. To the point that “What the fuck, dude?” takes on a new meaning.

I remove emphasis from everything but “fuck,” the “dude” shortened to a half syllable, as if, in that moment, saying the sentence clearly is too much to ask for. I’m just that tired. That ready for things to go back to normal.

Which is exactly why I muttered, “What the fuck, dude?” at the end of Twin Peaks.

No spoilers here, of course, but just . . . dude . . .

Twin Peaks is, at its heart, a soap opera. Which, of course, is immediately strange because, of all the things I expected Twin Peaks to be, a soap opera was not one of them.

It is also a mystery/thriller, for sure.

And a heavily supernatural, surrealist day dream/nightmare?

Side Note for Gamers: Twin Peaks is also completely responsible for Deadly Premonition. If you’ve ever played that game and thought, “This is so original!” Nope. It was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. The two are different for sure, but the comparisons draw themselves.

But, whatever; my point is, at its heart, Twin Peaks is actually a soap opera.

And, in being a soap opera, it answered one creative question I’ve had since I was young: “What would happen if I wrote a thing and paid a ton of attention to every single character in that thing?”

The answer: that’s what a soap opera is. Obviously, there are other factors that make a soap opera a soap opera, but I don’t know another word for a huge ensemble piece that tries to captivate a large audience with a mix of relationship drama, intrigue, mystery, and popular fiction elements, regardless of genre.

It doesn’t matter if it’s set in a hospital.

It doesn’t matter if there are witches and little puppets who come to life.

It doesn’t matter if it centers around the mystery of a murdered girl.

Whatever it is–even if it’s a story with a cast full of dinosaurs–if you give each dinosaur their own subplot, what you wind up with is a soap opera. Even if you’re only trying to tell a bunch of individual stories based in one town, in order to do each story justice, you’ll have to add the relationship drama, the intrigue, the mystery, the popular fiction elements, and a bunch of other things anyway. Because, hey, the fact that the kids down the block are trying to save their buddy from the Underneath has nothing to do with Becky Terwilliger (I just made her up [I know, hard to believe]), but Stranger Things doesn’t show us what Becky’s up to, because it’s not a soap opera.

What I’m saying here is, giving a large cast of characters a lot of attention and complexity is what Twin Peaks does . . . and that’s why it’s basically a soap opera.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that’s bad.

But watching Twin Peaks made me realize that unwittingly writing a soap opera . . . is something I never want to do.

Because, in the end, I’m not sure if I liked Twin Peaks or hated it.

I can tell you that I absolutely loved a lot of what it did. The main plot lines were intriguing, Dale Cooper and most of the characters were great. Some of the subplots were fun and exciting. Lots of the surreal imagery was bizarre . . . and awesome.

But I also just . . . hated some of the characters. Hated them to the extent that I didn’t care what happened to them.

But, unfortunately, the show really cared about all of its characters, including the ones that I didn’t like, which means–in true soap opera fashion–it refused to let them go. And, hey, I’m not saying Twin Peaks didn’t kill people off, but there were two cases of people just not dying when they should’ve. And one case of a character leaving the show . . . without actually leaving the show.

In one of the pretend-death cases, the writers did something new with a character, and it wound up being weird–and the best.

With the other . . . I mean, there was no reason for [REDACTED] to stay alive. I sensed hints of the ol’ Game of Thrones switcheroo, where we were supposed to start caring about a heel, but nope. It didn’t work. At least not for me.

In the last case, a character I genuinely disliked left the town of Twin Peaks, not sure when he’d come back . . . and Twin Peaks followed him. And started a new storyline just for him, with completely new characters. Yes, a spin-off of a show . . . in the show it’s spinning off.

. . . Why?

But, whatever. What matters is, I still enjoyed watching the weirdness of Twin Peaks. And I still learned a bunch from it:

  • Massive stories with large casts are guaranteed to have characters people don’t care about. Because that’s just a symptom of soap operas.
    You have to cast a wide net.
    You have to make the pirate man with the burned hand, because, hey, some people like pirates.
    In the same fashion, Twin Peaks had to make the robotic biker dude, because some people like robot bikers. Also (wow, I actually have to say this), disclaimer: there is no robot biker on Twin Peaks; I was being sarcastic. Just a really whiny biker who managed to super emote . . . while just staring blankly 90% of the time? Whatever–I hated him.
  • Charming characters can get really annoying if their subplots go on forever.
    One subplot involved one of my favorite characters deciding who the father of her child was.
    Twenty episodes later, when she still hadn’t made up her mind, I stopped caring really hard.
  • Incredibly annoying characters can become a ton of fun when they have drastic role reversals.
    The example Twin Peaks provides is really, really out there, but it worked. And, even though it was silly (even the reason for the personality change was pure camp, oddly born from tragedy), I absolutely loved it.
    It’s a thing that can work.
  • High-level character alchemy can backfire. It can backfire really hard.
    “Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll get if we combine a tough biker . . . with an incredibly fragile, emotionally-underdeveloped baby.”
    The answer: Literally the worst character ever.

~~~

A part of me feels like I should’ve watched the new season of Twin Peaks before writing this, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

At any rate, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this one. But if this was lost on you because you haven’t watched Twin Peaks, I . . . recommend it? Ugh. I’m not sure of anything anymore. If you like being really weirded out, watch it; making you feel weird–especially by showing you strangely human moments–is the very root of what this show does.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, either way, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #2 – Logan

I’m a firm believer that, any franchise–no matter how terrible or vapid–can have its one amazing installment. Given enough time and enough freedom, I think that all the right elements can finally come together to make something absolutely amazing. Sometimes, it takes forever. Often, it takes so long that it doesn’t happen at all. But, in some reality, there are four Ben Affleck Daredevil movies, and the fourth one is the best comic book movie of all time.

But, even believing that, I never would’ve thought I’d say what I’m about to say.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that the best comic book movie of all time . . . is a Fox X-Men movie.

I can’t explain how thoroughly and repeatedly I’ve been disappointed by the Fox X-Men. Even when I did enjoy one of their movies, it always came with a caveat. “X-Men 2 isn’t as bad as X-Men.”First Class was pretty good for an X-Men movie.” “I enjoyed Days of Future Past, but holy shit–the weird inconsistencies . . . with Fox’s own continuity that they established.”

But Logan . . .

Logan is a beautiful, sad masterpiece.

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil anything.

Now . . . even though I think you can argue that it’s the best, I don’t know if Logan is my favorite comic book movie. Because one of my criteria for a favorite anything is that I want can watch it, play it, or read it over and over again. And I’m not sure I can ever watch Logan a second time.

I cried. I have no qualms telling anyone–I absolutely cried. It hit me really, really hard. Harder than any other comic book movie ever has. Because it pairs romantic, comic book ideas with extremely real drama–with genuine, human concerns and emotions–so well that it actually hurts to watch it. In this case, it’s literally a juxtaposition of childhood escapism with adult grounded, adult fears.

Fears I’ve had. Logan centers on emotions I’ve felt as a single, older man who has genuinely considered giving up. It feels like I’ve had to fight everyone for my entire life, because I had a violent asshole of a brother who, at his best, would casually steal my belongings, and, at his worst, would slap me around for answering the phone for his creditors. To get through that, I fostered a passive personality that attracted all of the wrong people.

Having lived through that life, now trying to squash that reflex to be passive, I’m a man who’s tired of fighting; I don’t like starting fights with people and I absolutely fucking hate people who start fights with me “for fun.” I’m also a man who just wants his own family but has no idea how to start one. A guy who still doesn’t even have the money to date, trying his best to take care of his mother. I’m in my 30’s and trying to figure out how I can find a new apartment big enough for the both of us. I don’t know how.

Logan is the story of a former X-Man, living in a world where there are no more X-Men. He works a shit job so he can earn enough money to buy a better life for himself and an aged Charles Xavier. His companion in this is Caliban, a mutant who takes care of Charles when Logan is working, but in his day-to-day, Logan is alone. There is absolutely no love interest in this movie, because of course there isn’t; Logan has to focus on taking care of Charles. On working and escaping somehow.

That’s only the exposition, but, hopefully, the similarities to my life are clear.

And, hopefully, the movie’s ability to convey basic, human drama is also clear. There’s no Red Skull, trying to destroy the world with a cosmic cube. There’s no alien invasion in New York. There’s no protagonist who dresses up as a bat and tries to convince you that, no, really, that’s totes realistic and not at all ridiculous, you guys. Logan has an antagonist and a bit of comic book-ish conspiracy–rising action in the form of a woman who asks “the Wolverine” for help escaping a para-military group, a mysterious girl in tow–but those things are more like vehicles for the drama. They are a way to tell you something about the world. About the expectations of a man.

And, I wish I didn’t have to add this, but I don’t “the expectations of a man” in the douchy way some might think. This isn’t a movie about some old bro dude recapturing his glory days from high school. Logan is more mature than that.

Because it focuses on the fears of older men. The fear of not being able to take care of the people you care about. The fear of passing your prime, but still needing to fight, only you’re not able to anymore. The fear that, no matter how far your run, your mistakes–the demons of your past–will always be there, and you just have to deal with that.

And, again, without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s a movie that tries to say one thing to the people who have all of these fears. The people who are tired of fighting the world and their demons.

“Don’t be what they made you.”

I’ve never felt like a comic book anything changed my life.

But after seeing Logan, came home and made as much time as I possibly could to write. I’ve tried to center myself and work toward what I want out of my life.

Because, even though things have started turning around for me, I realized I still don’t think I deserve it. Somewhere, all of the world’s fucked up programming ruined me. I kept expecting to lose the new job or fuck up in some major way.

But I’m right there. I’m starting to live the life I want.

And to actually accept that, I only need to do one thing.

Be who I am, not what they made me.

~~~

I would talk about what Logan taught me writing-wise, but it’s a movie I can’t discuss for too long without getting emotional. So, instead, I’ll just say go and see it. Even if you don’t like comic book movies, just give this one a chance. It’s more intense, emotional, and heartfelt than any of them by far.

Everyone, thank you for reading. It still feels weird to post only once a week, so, at some point, if I can figure it out, I’d at least like to step it up to twice a week. Until then, thank you to those of you who are still dropping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you everyone just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #1 – Iron Fist

Welcome back for another rip roarin’ week of talking about fantasy. And writing. And probably cute animals at some point.

We’re starting off with a super reactionary piece that I’m going to tie into one of my greatest fears as a writer–losing the ability to be objective.

Before getting to that though, let me explain that this is Just Watched, a series where I get to react to a fantasy-based movie or show that I just watched.

And, for this first one, I just finished Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix.

Now, I’m not just going to review it here, because I hate doing reviews for anything.

But . . . I wanna have a relevant rant! So, let’s jump right in!

~~~

A few weeks ago, the media received a preview of Iron Fist–the first six episodes. And reviews of those episodes were . . . universally negative.

Me, being a fan of anything Marvel since I was a kid, was worried. But I also . . . wasn’t surprised. I was there for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. I remember the prism covers of the 90’s, Spider-Man 3, the first X-Men movie.

That is to say that I remember when Marvel was terrible. Just, non-stop garbage.

And I’ve been waiting for the first major crap fest to spoil Marvel’s streak of movies and shows.

Not because I want them to tank . . . but because I want to be sure that, when that time comes, I can see that crap fest for what it is.

Because, as a writer, I have to stay objective. About everything.

I know Iron Man 2 wasn’t great, and I know people hate Iron Man 3, but I didn’t mind the former and actually liked the latter.

That . . . has worried me to no end. Because, if I can’t be objective about franchises I love . . . how can I be objective about my own writing?

I’m also terrified of becoming the guy who forgives Batman V Superman, a movie that double abbreviates “versus” in the title. There are a bunch of Marvel movies that I didn’t like (Ant Man, for example, and I still think Thor: The Dark World was the absolute worst of the bunch [it’s boring, goofy in the worst ways, and has the premiere example of a horrible, toothless MCU villain]), but I’ve been thoroughly terrified of how blind BVS fans are. I’ve met writers who liked it.

The idea of being that blind of a writer actually fills me with dread.

I’ve listened to people balk, “Well, the fight between Batman and Superman was actually pretty good.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “I mean, with those characters, that was the best they could do, really.”

Me: “No, it wasn’t.”

Them: “Well, I thought it was pretty good.”

Just the idea of having that little quality control . . . Fuck’s sake.

As I’ve told friends in the past, my intake, as a writer, matters–across all media. Being discerning of that intake is incredibly important. I have to watch and read things that I can learn from.

At the very least, I need to avoid things that are going to instill terrible habits in me.

I can’t excuse BVS having a terrible plot, because that would make it easier for me to write a terrible plot in the future.

Which is why I was immediately worried when I finished the first episode of Iron Fist . . . and liked it.

But then, relieved when I got to the end of the sixth episode and clearly saw (as with Iron Man 3) what it was doing wrong. By the end of the second to last episode, I was genuinely bored.

Thank . . . God.

Iron Fist is a show that does not understand what it’s supposed to be about. Danny Rand, the protagonist, is a sweet, loving guy who has the power of the Iron Fist–which basically means he’s the best fighter in the world.

This is not a show about that.

It’s first about him returning to New York and getting his company back, because, like countless other super heroes, he’s the incredibly rich son of an incredibly rich (and dead) businessman. Slowly, the plot builds momentum, but it always does so with regular cuts back to boardroom meetings and moments of character drama that would be great if they didn’t happen so often.

Sprinkled in, there are a few decent fight scenes, but they afford very little use of the actual Iron Fist.

It’s a strange thing to watch. I’m not adverse to the business drama side of the show–two of my favorite characters are exclusive to that side–but it’s not what anyone signed up for when they sat down for a fun, combat-oriented show based on a comic.

Especially because none of the combat delivers in a way that Daredevil didn’t. In fact, every time a fight starts in Iron Fist, I think, “Man, the hallway fight in Daredevil was so awesome. I wish I was watching that.” In part because Iron Fist returns to the highly choreographed fighting that Daredevil abandoned.

Oddly, the show also backpedals in the diversity department. And, yes, sure, I mean that the protagonist is another rich white guy. But, removing race from the equation altogether, he’s a rich male super hero who likes to listen to classic jams. Marvel’s Netflix shows were awesome because they were so different from Hollywood’s superhero formula. Iron Fist goes all-in on that formula and it just feels . . . samey.

“Why is Danny listening to Outkast?” I wondered as episode one started.

The answer: because this is a Marvel anything.

“Why am I watching a kung-fu master, trained in heaven, attending a board meeting?”

The answer: I don’t know. I really don’t.

All of that said, I don’t hate the show. Danny being a nice, naive guy at least makes for a . . . unique MCU protagonist.

But I am still really glad that I can be objective enough to see the massive flaws in Iron Fist. Its pacing. Its manic plot, incapable of deciding where it’s taking us until the very end. Its totally nonsensical moments (there’s a lot of “No, we can’t call the cops!” on this show, along with too much, “Just call Daredevil!” shouted by me, at my TV).

My point is, even though it went about it in the worst ways, Iron Fist still taught me some things:

  • Sudden changes of setting and circumstances happen in real life. They also fall into the Stranger Than Fiction trap, and make for a choppy, unsatisfying plot.
  • Don’t shy away from a crazy premise. Make it believable. If you avoid it, the reader/viewer will know.
  • When it comes to superheroes, never, ever write a white, male orphan/heir to a multi-million dollar company. Especially if it’s a company with his last name on it. It has been done. So done.

~~~

Well, that took . . . way longer than I expected. I hope this one was interesting, and I promise that next time, I won’t go over 1000 words (ugh–why is it 1AM?). Regardless, I absolutely appreciate the read and I hope your week started off well.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.